Sal Mineo

Active - 1955 - 1975  |   Born - Jan 10, 1939 in New York, New York, United States  |   Died - Feb 12, 1976   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Action

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Actor Sal Mineo enjoyed great success as a teen idol during the late '50s, shooting to fame opposite James Dean in the perennial Rebel Without a Cause. Born January 10, 1939, in the Bronx, NY, Mineo was an incorrigible youth, tossed out of parochial school and by age eight a member of a street gang. In an attempt to reform her son, his mother enrolled him in dancing school; still, he persisted in running wild until he was arrested for robbery in 1949. Given the choice between juvenile confinement or professional acting school, Mineo chose the latter. Two years later, he appeared on Broadway in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo, followed by a prominent role in The King and I opposite Yul Brynner. He made his film debut in 1955's Six Bridges to Cross, followed by the Charlton Heston vehicle The Private War of Major Benson. Mineo closed out the year portraying the ill-fated Plato in the Nicholas Ray classic Rebel Without a Cause; diminutive and sad-eyed, his performance perfectly captured the film's themes of youthful desperation, and struck a chord with audiences as well as critics, earning him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination.

For the remainder of the decade, Mineo remained a high-profile screen presence, co-starring in films including 1956's Giant and Somebody up There Likes Me. In 1957, he also attempted to mount a career as a pop singer, scoring a pair of Top 40 hits with "Start Movin' (In My Direction)" and "Lasting Love." In 1959, Mineo starred as the titular jazz drummer in the film biography The Gene Krupa Story, and a year later earned a second Oscar nomination for his work in Exodus. In 1962, he co-starred in The Longest Day, but then the offers stopped coming in. Apart from 1965's The Greatest Story Ever Told, the majority of his subsequent projects were low-budget offerings, and eventually he turned almost exclusively to television. In an attempt to shed his youthful image, Mineo also returned to theater to direct the 1969 drama Fortune and Men's Eyes, which enjoyed successful runs on both coasts. He still continued acting, but by the time of 1971's Escape From the Planet of the Apes, he had literally been reduced to playing a monkey; it was his last major screen appearance. Mineo's life came to a tragic end on the night of February 12, 1976, when he was brutally stabbed on the streets of West Hollywood; he was only 37 years old, and virtually broke at the time of his death. His murderer received a sentence of life imprisonment three years later.

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  • Made Broadway debut at age 11, speaking one line in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo.
  • Big break came playing the Crown Prince of Siam in The King and I on-stage with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner.
  • Won acclaim as Plato, a gay teen infatuated with James Dean's character Jim in the 1955 drama Rebel Without a Cause.
  • As a teen idol, took up singing in 1957 with hit songs like "Start Movin' (In My Direction)" and "Lasting Love."
  • After a career slump, took roles on television and went back to theater directing the prison drama Fortune and Men's Eyes and attempting a comeback playing the bisexual burglar in P.S. Your Cat Is Dead.
  • Murdered by a single stab wound to the heart at age 37.
  • Mentioned in the song "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" in Grease.  Mineo died the year before the film version was released, and the lyrics were altered to reference Elvis Presley instead.